Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, host and judge of Bravo’s Top Chef, took to the streets of Houston on a rainy Saturday as part of a mass nationwide women’s march in protest of Texas’ restrictive abortion law. Top Chef season 19 is currently filming in Houston, their second time in the Lone Star State in more than a decade, formerly filming in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. The new season will feature a panel of all-star judges made up of former Top Chef contestants, and Padma and Gail will be joined by judge and chef Tom Colicchio.
The abortion law by the State of Texas has been a controversial topic that has sparked the attention of celebrities and even the federal government. Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), as it is formerly known, outlaws abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no further leniencies in instances of rape or incest. Some shows have decided not to film in Texas, including an upcoming show from the creator of The Wire. As of September 9, the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas to prevent them from enforcing Senate Bill 8, claiming it violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Women’s March was held in major cities on Saturday, including Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Houston, where Top Chef’s Padma and Gail led a large group of women shouting, “Our body, our choice!” in the march to City Hall. The duo took a break from filming to be a part of the protest, where they not only participated in the march but also spoke to a large audience. As reported by Houston’s local news outlet, CHRON, Padma recalled her own personal experiences where her mother had to have an abortion at Planned Parenthood after sustaining severe injuries from a car accident. “At that time, not only could my parents not afford another child, but her body could not physically sustain another pregnancy,” she said. “It’s out of love for me that they made the difficult decision to do what was right for our family and it’s out of love for my mother and all families that I stand here today, ready to fight.” Padma also revealed that she was raped when she was 16 years old. “My only saving grace was that I didn’t become pregnant,” she said. “I know how sexual violence can make people feel powerless, and this bill is a knife in the heart to those very same people.”
Gail shared that she had mixed feelings about filming the upcoming season of Top Chef in Houston due not only to the passing of SB 8 but also Texas’ voting rights restrictions. However, she told the crowd that the people of Houston’s stance on the bill contradicted that of the state’s, and it was important to recognize that. “I know that Houston is a deeply diverse and vibrant place,” said Gail. “I know that my beloved restaurant industry, let alone the women of Houston and all of Texas, need our support now more than ever and that personally choosing to back out of coming here would only serve to hurt the local people and the local economies that I set out in my career to uplift and stand behind.”
Padma and Gail didn’t come to Houston just to film Top Chef. These strong women used their voices to call upon local and national governments to stop SB 8 and to call out the Governor of Texas. The women were bringing the heat to the Women’s March and calling on the state officials to pack their knives and go.